"My father sold medicine and stuff in town. We lived with my cousins and aunts in a big house, kinda like."

The accent is pure Tennessee, a soft, musical drawl, and the girl is dressed like any 15-year-old Washington visitor on her way to see the Capitol.

But the town she is talking about is Battambang, Cambodia. And her father is dead, taken away in the night by Khmer Rouge guards at the labor camp where the whole family was imprisoned. And Linn Yann herself is the subject of a TV movie screening tonight.

"They had him working on a bridge in the rain, and he got sick," she said. "He couldn't eat or talk, but they said he was faking, so they took him away. We never saw him again."

At 9, Linn Yann was a veteran of three years at hard labor, foraging for food to stay alive. She had never been to school, never handled a pencil. On April 5, 1979, her mother collected her and her five brothers and sisters and fled toward Thailand 100 miles away.

"We were all so tired. We lived on roots and leaves. We didn't know where we were going until a soldier pointed the way to Thailand. We didn't know if we should believe him, but we did."

At last they reached a refugee camp over the border. And things began to happen. A family in Chattanooga adopted them and they were flown to Tennessee. Linn Yann spoke not a word of English, but she learned quickly. She learned so well that last year she placed fourth in the National Scripps Howard spelling bee.

Tonight at 7, "The Disney Sunday Movie" will tell the story in a two-hour film on ABC.

The picture also introduces George and Prissy Thrash, who decided to sponsor a family after hearing at the Red Bank United Methodist Church about the Cambodian refugees. The Thrashes had a 14-year-old daughter, Laura, and had planned to have no more children. They had thought maybe they would get a single refugee, or perhaps a mother and child.

When they learned they were taking on a widow and six children aged 3 to 13, they were appalled.

It was pouring rain when the group arrived at the local airport, airsick and lost-looking. Linn Yann hid her face to escape the photographers' flashbulbs. The newcomers didn't know how to use western toilets, huddled together in speechless fright, squirreled away any food that was given to them.

"Before this happened, it was the farthest thing from my mind," said Prissy Thrash. She came here with Linn Yann to see Sen. Edward Kennedy, who presented her with a dictionary, and other officials. "We only had three weeks from the time we first expressed interest until they arrived."

That rainy night was a Thursday. By Saturday, Say Phoen Chov and her children had been taken to a doctor for a checkup and were beginning to respond to their surroundings. The sun came out . . . "and we felt it was going to work," Thrash said. "We took it one day at a time."

George Thrash, a manufacturer's service representative, bought a house for $35,000 three miles from their own place and rented it to the Yanns for $231 a month. Linn's mother, 42, who still speaks little English, by then had a factory job. Today the children are all in school, and the eldest, Kiev, 19, will graduate from high school in the spring. She works after school, too. The youngest, Peter, is 9.

In fact, nearly all the 200 Southeast Asians in Chattanooga are adjusting to their new life, and most have jobs, according to Thrash.

"Our own daughter is a freshman in college," she said, "so you could say we have an empty nest. But the car is never empty."

As for Linn, she seems to have been touched by the famous American wand. When she won the countywide spelling bee in 1983, President Reagan called her up at home to say he was proud of her.

"She asked me if I'd ever talked to him," Thrash laughed. "Sometimes I wonder if she realizes that this sort of thing doesn't happen to everybody."

A straight-A eighth grader, Linn has taken up track, runs the 440 and cross-country, sings in the chorus and manages the boys' basketball team for her church.

"But no more spelling bees," she said.

She wants to go to college and become a doctor, and it looks as if the money from the movie, which has been put into an education fund for the children, will make this possible.

"I'd like to go back to Cambodia someday," she said. "My grandmother's still there. But I won't go while it's still communist. My mother's eldest brother is still in a camp in Thailand."

She has seen the movie, "The Girl Who Spelled Freedom," and found it fairly accurate, though it never does depict her life as a slave laborer. She hopes her new friends will see it.

Said Thrasher, "People always want to know, 'What can I do about the world?' Well, when you find something you can do, you do it. It may change your life, but you do it."